The interview is prepared by Matthew Furlong, UMass Boston MBA student graduating in May 2017.
Where are you from?
I received Master of Science degree in Advanced Architecture Design from Columbia University in the City of New York, Bachelor in Architecture from China Central Academy of Fine Arts. I was honored with a certificate in Business Administration and Management from Baruch College – The City University of New York, and graduated from the executive education program: Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School.
What is Fluxus LLC?
Fluxus LLC was founded in 2013 and is an architecture technology startup, a spinoff of George Maciunas/ Fluxus Foundation. The company is committed to scaling solutions for providing sustainable and affordable housing, and building dignified homes for all, through a unique prefabricated building technology, utilizing advanced building materials and a fully integrated technology platform – the Fluxus System. Prefabrication is an effective way of reducing cost, risk and waste, while improving quality and value for the construction practices. Taking advantage of economies of scale through mass-production, the Fluxus System well serves as a cost-effective tool to deliver high quality affordable housing, post-disaster/post-conflict relief and reconstruction.
What sparked your idea?
It is a mix of my academic training, personal and professional experience, as well as career ambition that led me to pursue this initiative. While studying architecture in Columbia University, I focused on the technology’s transformative impact on the future of building industry. I participated in Columbia Building Intelligence Project (C-BIP), where the most cutting-edge prefabrication technologies have been (re)introduced as an innovative solution for the greatest inefficiencies in the building industry. I have also been intrigued by and exposed to social and economic dimensions of architecture design. A definitive moment comes from the May 2008 Sichuan Earthquake near my hometown in Chengdu, China. In exploring the design for the post-disaster emergency architecture, I realized the need for resilient, safe cities with scientific planning is particularly urgent.
I started my career working at a non-for-profit organization – George Maciunas/Fluxus Foundation where I led research and development of a prefabricated building system envisioned in 1960s, and re-positioned the revolutionary relevance of this idea in the context of today’s urban setting, arguing for an alternative of human habitat, where urban efficiency and social welfare play the leading role. During the process, I realized the challenge to roll out a real solution through charity, and have been increasingly amazed by the power of social entrepreneurship as well as its potential to build scalable business model leading to sustainable social impact.
The Fluxus System was initially proposed by George Maciunas, the founder of Fluxus art movement, also known as the Father of SoHo (coined by NYTimes). As an architect, Maciunas’ ambition was to construct an architectural solution to meet the social and environmental needs of humanity. While we are facing some of the greatest challenges in our time, such as global climate change, rapid urbanization and rising mobility, technology has finally reached a tipping point where solutions like the Fluxus System can scale to mass-market without the challenges faced historically. At Fluxus LLC, we are now progressing this system through proof of concept into mass-production and commercialization, building with environmental, social and economic sustainability in mind.
Environmental Sustainability: The traditional construction industry is highly inefficient and harmful to the environment. This is largely caused by the method currently bing used – onsite construction. The Fluxus System is uniquely designed to be sustainable in its production, construction, and use. Its design principles highlight a minimal number of components, creating minimal wastage of materials while emphasizing a sustainable use of resources.
Social Sustainability: We believe in the Fluxus System’s excellent design and unique place shaping capabilities that can facilitate sustainable communities and enhance the well-being of their inhabitants. We engage local communities and local governments in the construction process, linking the local economy by providing sustainable employment and skill-building.
Economic Sustainability: The Fluxus System results in cost saving throughout the construction and development process. The benefits result in more affordable housing solution for clients and local communities. The efficiencies of the Fluxus System place it ahead of most other prefabricated systems by saving up to 60% cost and 75% time.
What is unique about it?
The Design: We not only provide a solution to a critical global challenge – housing crisis, but also prioritize dignity and respect for the population we serve. Instead of positioning high-quality and design against low-cost, we are pioneering a solution that achieves both.
The Fluxus System distinguishes itself from other prefab building systems by its use of a smart system comprised of only 9 advanced and standardized components, each performing multi-functions. This concise design and efficient use of resources greatly simplify and improve building production, delivery, and sustainability while allowing for a much greater adaptation to automation, unlike anything currently on the market.
The Technology: The growing global housing crisis, large population shifts and rapid urbanization process require brand new approaches, strategies and operational changes within the construction industry. FLUXUS pioneers a solution based on a new type of prefabrication model with Industry 4.0 applications including advanced Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Design-to-Fabrication technologies, along with innovations in sustainable building materials.
The main paradox of many other new building technologies is that they help improve and speed up the building process based on old ways of building, existing paradigms and today’s regulations. We believe system solutions like FLUXUS can achieve a new level of efficiency by recomposing the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry’s DNA, providing a fully interconnected and integrated solution. This will enable the construction industry to move into the next chapter. This next chapter will demonstrate the ability to abandon existing ways of thinking and building which cause unnecessary inefficiencies that the world can no longer afford.
What type of audience are you targeting with it?
We see the Fluxus System as an emerging building technology to serve a wide range of markets across a broad economic spectrum. We have identified two submarkets to initially target, based on an urgent need, a low barrier to entry, applicability of our current prototype and high value add of the Fluxus System advantages. These include both post-disaster and post-conflict relief and reconstruction worldwide. The technology behind the Fluxus System is well-suited for applications throughout the broader market. We are currently researching prototypes to develop manufacturing technology and set quality standards and establish cost targets. These markets include: lower income affordable housing, student housing, and housing for young professionals.
How long and with whom have you been working on it?
When did you found it?
Who are your co-founders, partners, employees?
We have a multi-disciplinary team of skilled cross-border entrepreneurs and professionals, including co-founder Mr. Harry Stendhal, who is a serial entrepreneur with more than 25 years experience in managing creative businesses and non-for-profit, COO Mr. Richard Liu, who is a successful business executive with more than 15 years of experience in managing international corporations of design and manufacturing industries, as well as other core team members including very senior architects and engineers, material scientists and financial specialists.
We also very honored to have a strong consultant base comprised of experienced business executives, financial advisors, top Intellectual Property attorneys, and research institutions. The team will be forming a series of consortia and joint ventures for a project backlog that includes Africa, Asia and Latin America. We have identified partners including a world-leading supplier of advanced materials, a world-class virtual construction software company, and several multi-national general contracting, manufacturing and logistic services providers.
Who funded/invested in Fluxus LLC so far?
The company is seeded though initial funding from co-founders, and has received angel investment from an outside investor. We are closing pre-A round by the end of April, and are in discussions with several prospects of strategic investors for the Series A round.
What have been the greatest challenges to your business’ success so far?
The main challenges are 1). Financing: to get enough funding for proof of concept, and to build a scalable financial model in order to create sustainable impact; 2). Scaling: to scale up our manufacturing capacity, to convince local decision makers and partners to do large scale pilot projects, to challenge today’s regulation and yesterday’s mindset of building industry, in order to truly leverage the innovation of the next generation mass-production leading to economies of scale.
What have been your greatest achievements so far with your business?
Our approach and product have drawn interests from the United Nations, that is looking to use our system for rapid deployment projects around the world.
What are your short-term and long-term business goals?
In the short term, we expect to progress our initiative through prototyping and pilot into the phase to scale-up; in the long term, we aim to improve the quality of life through a sustainable way of building dignified homes for all, together with many other like-minded companies and organizations. We believe in the collective efforts and look forward to leading the rising tide that lifts all boats.
How did you arrive at UMass Boston and the VDC?
While looking for working visa options for international entrepreneurs in the U.S., I came across Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program at VDC UMass Boston online. I applied for the program, and went through phone interview and in person interview process. I found out later that it is the first program in the country that pioneers a model to allow international entrepreneurs like myself to pursue our dreams and build companies which eventually will contribute to the U.S. and global economies.
What are benefits of being an entrepreneur here?
The Venture Development Center has a unique approach of cultivating early stage entrepreneurs. For me and Fluxus, Venture Development Center is providing a robust community for us to continue pursuing our big vision, and to scale the social impact on addressing housing crisis. As a result, Fluxus solution has great potential to facilitate sustainable communities, regenerate distressed neighborhoods and promote economic benefits, social integration and social mobility, which will in turn contribute to the societies at large.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
About vision: Dream big, never lose sight of your dreams, but always learn to adapt.
About team-building: Take time to find like-minded people who are as passionate and committed as you are; build a diverse, multi-disciplinary, and multi-cultural team; build a strong advisory/consultant base that will help in the successful process of establishing your company via leveraging of experiences, resources, and partnership opportunities.
About go-to-market plan: Conduct market research to identify the perfect timing for go-to-market; attract and build relationship with as many as prospective clients before go-to-market; launch product version 1.0 as soon as you can, and improve the product based on market feedback; in some cases, you need to strategically select the first few customers, which will help establish brand recognition and lead to positive public relations.
About fund-raising: Research different funding sources suitable for your business; develop investment ask and strategy based on assessing tradeoffs between different modes of financing.
About Impact: Real impactful companies lead the rising tide that lifts all boats. Try to make your business into an impact enterprise, where social, environmental and financial returns are valued equally. I believe impact enterprise will be a new normal for businesses guided by long term visions for sustainable development.
The interview is also published at UMass Boston’s Entrepreneurship Club’s blog.